More hospitals share EMR data, more patients want access
When the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services first began the meaningful use program, the agency's goal was to create a new paradigm of health care. In this system, information technology would be leveraged to grant physicians quick and reliable access to patient data, tests results and medical histories. In more advanced scenarios, this data could be shared across large hospital networks to utilize big data analytical trends to improve quality of care.
Though there is still much work to be done before that last stage comes to fruition, a recent report commissioned by the American Hospital Association and published by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology shows that the health care industry is steadily trending toward more comprehensive use of patient data in health information exchanges. Various incentives such as meaningful use and compliance mandates may be driving medical organizations to increase their foci on health IT, other data suggests that patients may be a significant factor as well.
Examining an industry trend
Though the private AHA and the public ONC may approach health IT from different perspectives, both organizations have a vested interest in keeping on top of emerging trends. To gain a clearer picture of how far health information exchanges have come since their inception almost five years ago, the AHA and ONC surveyed health care professionals stationed in privately-owned acute care hospitals around the country to gain a representative sample of the industry's use of health IT.
The survey found that more than 60 percent of hospitals in the U.S. participated in a health information exchange during 2013. Compared to 2008, the year the first exchanges were implemented, this number represents a 51 percent increase.
The majority of these hospitals (57 percent) shared data with ambulatory providers not related to their internal systems, and 40 percent sent and received data with other hospitals on foreign networks. Both of these figures represented significant increases compared to 2008's numbers. Data sharing with ambulatory providers increased by 57 percent, while hospital-to-hospital cooperation spiked by 167 percent.
Though these numbers are encouraging for proponents of health IT, the type of data shared across health information exchanges was not uniform. Laboratory results were shared by more than 57 percent of hospitals, radiology reports by 55 percent, clinical care summaries by 42 percent and medication histories by only 37 percent.
If health information exchanges are to become the transformative power in health care that the ONC and other federal agencies want them to be, all data must be shared equally.
Patients raising voices
As health care professionals search for the resources and motivation to increase participation in health information exchange, a recent survey by Accenture suggests that patients are emerging as a driving force for greater data sharing.
Accenture contacted 1,093 patients with chronic conditions, such as asthma, arthritis, cancer and depression, and 918 health patients to gauge their opinions on the storage of sensitive patient data in accessible networks. Though they were aware of the various security concerns regarding electronic medical records, 65 percent said that they would rather have their information be used to improve care as much as possible.
Additionally, 87 percent said that they want access and control to their personalized EMR files so they can be more involved in their health, though 55 percent reported that they had no such control at the moment.
If the health care industry is to make a significant effort toward furthering health IT in the future, it may need to incorporate patients into the process through EMR systems and health information exchanges.
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